Crossed, p.20
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       Crossed, p.20

         Part #2 of Matched series by Ally Condie
Page 21


  “Not Anomalies and Citizens,” Vick says. “And most people don’t celebrate their Contract. ”

  I draw in my breath. She was an Anomaly? They celebrated their Contract?

  “It wasn’t sanctioned by the Society,” he says. “But when the time came I chose not to be Matched. And I asked her parents if I could Contract with her. They said yes. The Anomalies have their own ceremony. No one recognizes it but them. ”

  “I didn’t know that,” I say, and I dig the agate deeper into the wood. I wasn’t sure Anomalies other than the ones in the Carving still existed so recently or so close to Society. In Oria no one had seen or heard of any in years, except for the one who killed my cousin, the first Markham boy.

  “I asked her parents on the day I saw the rainbow,” Vick says. “I pulled it out of the river and saw the colors flash in the sun. I put it back right away when I saw what it was. When I told her parents about it, they said it was a good omen. A sign. You know what that is?”

  I nod. My father talked about signs sometimes.

  “I haven’t seen one since,” Vick says. “A rainbow trout, I mean. And it wasn’t a good omen after all. ” He takes a deep breath. “Only two weeks later I heard that the Officials were coming for us. I went to find her, but she was gone. So was her family. ”

  Vick reaches for the cottonwood. I hand it back to him although I haven’t finished. He turns the piece and studies the way her name looks right now—LAN—almost all straight lines. Like notches in a boot. And suddenly I know what he has been marking all along. Not time survived in the Outer Provinces—time lived without her.

  “The Society found me before I got home,” Vick says. “They took me to the Outer Provinces right away. ” He hands the carving back to me and I start working on it again. The firelight plays on the agate like the sun might have on the scales of the rainbow when Vick pulled it from the water.

  “What happened to your family?” I ask Vick.

  “Nothing, I hope,” he says. “The Society Reclassified me automatically, of course. But I wasn’t the parent. My family should be fine. ” I hear the uncertainty in his voice.

  “I’m sure they are,” I tell him.

  Vick looks at me. “Really?”

  “If the Society gets rid of Aberrations and Anomalies, that’s one thing. If they get rid of everyone connected to them, there won’t be anyone left. ” This is what I hope—then Patrick and Aida might be all right, too.

  Vick nods, lets out his breath. “You know what I thought?”

  “What?” I ask.

  “You’ll laugh,” Vick says. “But when you said that poem the first time, I didn’t just wonder if you were part of the Rising. I also hoped that you’d come to get me out of there. My own personal Pilot. ”

  “Why would you think that?” I ask.

  “My father was high up in the Army,” Vick says. “Very high up. I thought for sure he’d send someone out to save me. I thought it was you. ”

  “Sorry to have disappointed you,” I say. My voice sounds cold.

  “You didn’t disappoint,” Vick says. “You got us out of there, didn’t you?”

  In spite of myself I have a small feeling of satisfaction when Vick says that. I smile in the darkness.

  “What do you think happened to her?” I ask after a few moments.

  “I think her family ran away,” Vick says. “The Anomalies and Aberrations around us were disappearing, but I don’t think the Society got them all. Maybe her family left to try to find the Pilot. ”

  “Do you think they did?” I wish now that I hadn’t said so much about the Pilot not being real.

  “I hope so,” Vick says. His voice sounds hollow now that the story is told.

  I give him the piece of cottonwood carved with her name. He looks at it for a moment and then puts it in his pocket.

  “So,” Vick says. “Now. Let’s think about getting across this plain and back to whoever we can find. I’m going to keep following you for a while. ”

  “You have to stop saying that,” I tell Vick. “I’m not leading. We’re working together. ” I look up at the sky with all its stars. How they shine and burn I don’t know.

  My father wanted to be the person who changed everything and saved everyone. It was dangerous. But they all believed in him. The villagers. My mother. Me. Then I grew older and realized he could never win. I stopped believing. I didn’t die with him because I no longer went to any of the meetings.

  “All right,” Vick says. “But thank you for getting us this far. ”

  “You too,” I say.

  Vick nods. Before he falls asleep, he takes out his own piece of stone and carves another notch in his boot. One more day lived without her.

  Chapter 18


  You don’t look right,” Indie says. “Do you think we should slow down?”

  “No,” I say. “We can’t. ” If I stop I’ll never start again.

  “It doesn’t do anyone any good if you die on the way,” she says, sounding angry.

  I laugh. “I won’t. ” Though I’m exhausted, hollow and dry and aching, the idea of dying is ridiculous. I can’t die now when I might draw closer to Ky with every step I take. And besides, I have the blue tablets. I smile, imagining what the other scraps inside might say.

  I search and search for another sign from Ky. Though I’m not dying, I may be more ill than I first thought, because I find signs in everything. I think I see a message from Ky in the pattern of cracked mud on the canyon floor, where it rained once and then hardened into something that I think could be interpreted as letters. I crouch down to look at it. “What does this look like to you?” I ask Indie.

  “Mud,” she tells me.

  “No,” I say. “Look more closely. ”

  “Skin, or scales,” she says, and for a moment I am so taken with her idea I pause. Skin, or scales. Maybe this whole canyon is one long winding serpent that we walk along, and when we reach the end, we can step right off the tail. Or we’ll get to the mouth and it will swallow us whole.

  I finally see a true sign when the sky above the canyon shifts from blue into blue-and-pink, and the air begins to change.

  It’s my name: Cassia, carved into a young cottonwood that grows in a patch of soil near a thread of a stream.

  The tree won’t have a long life; its roots already grow too shallow from trying to soak up the water. He carved my name so carefully into the bark that it almost looks as if it is part of the tree.

  “Do you see this?” I ask Indie.

  After a moment, she says, “Yes. ”

  I knew it.

  Near the stream I see a small settlement, a little black orchard of twisted trunks and golden fruit hanging low on the trees. Seeing the apples on the branches like that makes me want to bring some to Ky as proof that I followed him every step of the way. I’ll have to find something else to give him besides the poem—I won’t have time to finish it, to think of the right words.

  Then I look back at the ground near the cottonwood and see footprints leading farther into the canyon. I didn’t notice them at first; they are mingled with the tracks of other creatures that came to the stream to drink. But there among the clawed and padded prints are the distinct marks of boots.

  Indie climbs over the fence into the orchard.

  “Come on,” I say to her. “There’s no reason to stop here. We can see where they went. We have water and the tablets. ”

  “The tablets won’t help us,” Indie says, and she tears an apple from a tree and takes a bite. “We should at least bring these. ”

  “The tablets do help,” I say. “I’ve taken one. ”

  Indie stops chewing. “You’ve taken one? Why?”

  “Of course I’ve taken one,” I say. “They’re as good as food for survival. ”

  Indie hurries over to me and hands me an apple. “Eat this. Now. ” She shakes her head. “When did you take the tablet?

  “In the other canyon,” I say, surprised at her expression of concern.

  “That’s why you’ve been sick,” Indie says. “You really don’t know, do you?”

  “Know what?”

  “The blue tablets are poisoned,” she says.

  “Of course they’re not poisoned,” I say. How ridiculous. Xander would never give me something poisoned.

  Indie sets her mouth in a thin line. “The tablets are poisoned,” she says. “Don’t take any more. ” She opens my pack and puts a few of the apples inside. “What makes you think you know where we should go?”

  “I just do,” I say, making an impatient gesture at the footprints. “I’m sorting the signs. ”

  Indie looks at me. She can’t decide whether or not to believe me. She thinks I’m sick from the tablet, that I’m losing my mind.

  But she saw my name on the tree and she knows that I didn’t carve it there.

  “I still think you should rest,” Indie says, one last time.

  “I can’t,” I say, and she can see that it’s true.

  I hear it not long after we leave the settlement. A sound of footsteps behind us. We’re near the water and I stop.

  “Someone’s here,” I say, turning to face Indie. “Someone is following us. ”

  Indie looks at me, her expression wary. “I think you’re hearing things that aren’t there. Just like you were seeing things that don’t exist. ”

  “No,” I say. “Listen. ”

  We both stand still, listening to the canyon. It’s quiet except for the rustling of leaves as the wind moves through them. The wind stops and the rattling ceases, but still I hear something. Feet on sand? A hand brushing against stone for support? Something. “There,” I say to Indie. “You must have heard that. ”

  “I don’t hear anything,” Indie says, but she looks unnerved. “You’re not well. Maybe we should rest a little. ”

  I answer her by walking again. I listen for the sound of someone behind us, but all I hear are the leaves, skittering and moving again on the canyon breeze.

  We walk until dark, and then we use our flashlights and we keep on. Indie was right; I don’t feel anyone following us now. I only hear my own breath, feel my own self, the weakness in each vein of my body, each bend of my muscle, every tired step of my feet. I will not let anything stop me when I am this close to Ky. I will take more tablets. I don’t think Indie’s right about them.

  When she isn’t looking, I open another tablet but my hands tremble too much. It falls to the ground and so does a tiny whisper of paper. And then I remember. Xander’s notes. I wanted to read them.

  The paper slips away on the wind, and it seems like far too much work to chase it down or to try to find blue in the dark.

  Chapter 19


  I wake to the sound of something big in the sky.

  When did they start firing so early in the morning? I think frantically. It’s lighter and later than I thought. I must have been tired.

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